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14 CFR § 121.557(c) says in part, (emphasis added)

Whenever a pilot in command... exercises emergency authority, he shall keep the appropriate ATC facility and dispatch centers fully informed of the progress of the flight.

Doesn't this require a pilot to "communicate," even if it distracts from "aviating" and "navigating"? 14 CFR § 121.557(a) allows the PIC to deviate from regulations if necessary, but I'm not sure this applies to 121.557(c)?

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2 Answers 2

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121.557(a) is pretty clear:

In an emergency situation that requires immediate decision and action the pilot in command may take any action that he considers necessary under the circumstances. In such a case he may deviate from prescribed operations procedures and methods, weather minimums, and this chapter, to the extent required in the interests of safety.

The pilot in command can deviate from any part of Title 14 Chapter I (in other words, parts 1 through 199) to the extent required in the interests of safety. This includes 121.557(c).

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  • $\begingroup$ Or... simply do (a) first, then (c). $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2023 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ I've actually done that... not the ATC part, but the dispatch part. We had a medical emergency on board, and went screaming into Atlanta at the speed of heat. Dispatch wanted a phone patch, and I said No Way -- we're plenty busy here, going fast, dodging weather, so call me at the gate, bye. The dispatcher was cool with that answer via ACARS (it was a supervisor who was pushing for the phone patch), and I never heard anything about it afterwards. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Nov 7, 2023 at 0:29
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If I understand your question correctly, you are asking if the authority given the pilot-in-command under 121.557(a), "...take any action that he considers necessary under the circumstances.", authorizes him to not have to comply with 121.557(c), - to "...keep the appropriate ATC facility and dispatch centers fully informed of the progress of the flight."

The last sentence of 121.557(a) states: "In such a case he may deviate from prescribed operations procedures and methods, weather minimums, and this chapter, to the extent required in the interests of safety." The regulatory reference to this "chapter" includes 121.557(c) and the phrase "to the extent required in the interests of safety" seems to provide the pilot-in-command the authority to make the "extent" determination.

So, it's my opinion that if an emergency situation occurred and the pilot-in-command determined that communication with ATC and the company's dispatch center was not possible he would be authorized to deviate from 121.557(c). However, the written report required by 121.557(c) that must be made by the pilot-in-command within 10 days of him returning to base would still apply since the emergency situation by then will have ended and no longer requires an immediate decision and action, as specified by 121.557(a).


§ 121.557 Emergencies: Domestic and flag operations.

(a) In an emergency situation that requires immediate decision and action the pilot in command may take any action that he considers necessary under the circumstances. In such a case he may deviate from prescribed operations procedures and methods, weather minimums, and this chapter, to the extent required in the interests of safety.

(b) In an emergency situation arising during flight that requires immediate decision and action by an aircraft dispatcher, and that is known to him, the aircraft dispatcher shall advise the pilot in command of the emergency, shall ascertain the decision of the pilot in command, and shall have the decision recorded. If the aircraft dispatcher cannot communicate with the pilot, he shall declare an emergency and take any action that he considers necessary under the circumstances.

(c) Whenever a pilot in command or dispatcher exercises emergency authority, he shall keep the appropriate ATC facility and dispatch centers fully informed of the progress of the flight. The person declaring the emergency shall send a written report of any deviation through the certificate holder's operations manager, to the Administrator. A dispatcher shall send his report within 10 days after the date of the emergency, and a pilot in command shall send his report within 10 days after returning to his home base.

(emphasis is mine)

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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure the 10 day rule would be the limiter. I think the communication deviation would be allowed only during times during an emergency when the PIC felt that taking a few seconds to communicate with ATC could jeopardize a successful outcome, for example while the PIC and FO are determining the best place to land. Unless the aircraft's stability was in constant danger, they would be expected to inform ATC of their progress and intentions as soon as they are able. If they landed at an alternate and were asked why they didn't inform ATC, "I thought we had 10 days" would not be a good answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2023 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton if, for example, the pic deviated from weather mins, or the comm requirements of 557(c) a written report explaining the deviation would still be required within 10 days of returning to his home base. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Nov 7, 2023 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ RTO - I'm just saying it's an after the fact reporting procedure that is separate from the communication requirement that exists during the emergency to "keep the appropriate ATC facility and dispatch centers fully informed of the progress of the flight." This refers to communication while the plane is in the air. Re the OP's question, the PIC is authorized to not communicate during times that other actions have priority. But in most cases that shouldn't be the entire time until landing. Once safely on the ground they fill out a report, within 10 days, where they can explain what happened. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2023 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton I think we may be on the same page mostly. But, as I see it, 557(a) gives the authority to the pic to not have to communicate to ATC and/or Dispatch, as described in 557(c), if that is what the circumstances of the emergency dictate. I can't think of many circumstances where that would be the case while the emergency was in progress, but 557(a) allows the pic to determine what is necessary to deal with the situation. But, after returning to base, within 10 days, the pic needs to make the written report regarding any deviation from any requirement as listed in 557(a) and (c). $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Nov 8, 2023 at 3:51

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